Engineers shared experiences of how teams can adapt to work in challenging conditions at this year’s ICE and InstRE lecture.
Planning, patience, and learning are the key to working in extreme environments, industry experts have said.
This year’s joint ICE and InstRE lecture, titled Engineering in Extreme Environments, explored just that, drawing on the expertise of engineers who have worked on challenging projects in remote areas.
Whether negotiating the heat of a hot, arid climate, or traversing through choppy marine conditions towards a far-off oil rig, it's likely that civil engineers will deliver a project in an extreme environment at some point in their career.
The lecture covered four case studies of engineers working under challenging conditions in the Falkland Islands, Antarctica, Rwanda and South Sudan.
The Falkland Islands
The first speaker at the event was Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Meek. He worked on Project Anemoi in the Falkland Islands, which set about replacing RAF accommodation in the location.
The gusty conditions of the Falkland Islands combined with significant changes in fire safety design following the Grenfell disaster, travel issues and the Covid-19 pandemic made the team’s task complicated.
However, adopting the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Plan of Work, and using visualisation and 3D tools were among the solutions that allowed the project to be a success.
Lieutenant Colonel Meek said: “The Anemoi lessons remain relevant to any of our construction projects. We should look to industry for the optimum process for project control, and the RIBA Plan of Works now forms the backbone of our projects.”
For Lloyd Wickens, project manager at BAM Nuttall, planning, training, and the ability to react to unforeseen circumstances were key to overcoming the challenges his team faced on their British Antarctic Survey project.
Adaptability and an openness to learn new skills were vital, according to Wickens.
Wickens said: “In addition to the skillsets required, we needed one person to be able to do another person’s job to keep the projects going…”
“Everyone in the team became a marine mammal observer, and even to board a ship these days, sea survival techniques are part and parcel of the training,” he said.
Kit Wolverson, civil engineer at Mott MacDonald, referenced some key learnings from the Nyabihynuira Trail Bridge project.
This scheme is supported by the charity ‘Bridges to Prosperity’ to offer locals safe access to healthcare, school and employment.
Her team needed to negotiate Rwandan rainstorms as well as the country’s steep topography.
“Being prepared for journeys to site was one of the biggest lessons learnt,” said Wolverson.
“Wherever you are, you might plan what you are going to do onsite because you know what you can do there. But one of the biggest hazards in the UK is driving to site, and our biggest hazard was the walk… so it's about making those comparisons.”
Colonel Jamie Stewart concluded the joint lecture relaying what happened when delivering bridge and hospital projects in South Sudan.
Despite having limited resources, his team built vital relationships with local contractors while the UK team assured the work.
“We must have the patience and ability to work with multiple stakeholders as there’s often a complex natural and human environment in crisis situations,” he emphasised, articulating a key theme that threaded the four talks together.